The Russian test skates are traditionally the first highlight of a new season, but the event was even more anticipated this year given the absence of any figure skating competitions. This was the first live skating event in Russia with a live audience since Elizaveta Tuktamysheva’s “Hot Ice” show back in March.
The national team members and reserves were all expected to present their programs on Sept. 12 and 13. However, injuries and illness caused a few skaters to withdraw from the event.
Mikhail Kolyada, Alexandra Trusova, Kamila Valieva and the pairs team of Anastasia Mishina and Alexander Galliamov showed a lot of improvement and were the standouts at the test skates. Anna Shcherbakova, Andrei Mozalev and Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin also deserve a special mention.
The Men: Kolyada Makes a Comeback
The Russian men have sat in the shadows of the ladies for a few years now. Though some were successful on the international stages last season — Dmitri Aliev taking the European title (the first Russian man to do so since Plushenko in 2012) and Andrei Mozalev winning the World Junior title — the public and media are mostly focused on the ladies.
Mikhail Kolyada is acknowledged by many as one of the most talented male skaters in Russia, but he has rarely lived up to expectations or his potential. Last season, he was off the radar as he struggled with sinusitis, which resulted in nasal surgery in late 2019. The recovery took a few months and shortly after the 25-year-old resumed training, the rinks in Russia closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In June, Kolyada surprised everyone by leaving Valentina Chebotareva, his coach since childhood, and moving to train with Alexei Mishin. It turned out to be the right decision — as everyone saw at the test skates.
Kolyada, the 2018 World bronze medalist, shone in both programs and easily outskated the rest of the men. Even though he only went for one quad toe-triple toe in both programs, the audiences gave him standing ovations. His jumps looked effortless and were of high quality, as were his spins and footwork.
His short is the jazzy, fun piece “Let’s Get Loud” by The Baseballs. Before the test skates, Kolyada said he hopes to create a “wow effect” with his long program set to music from the movie “The White Crow,” which is about the famous Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. He certainly achieved that at the test skates. His performance was mesmerizing and his one mistake — a stumble on the second triple Axel — did not take anything away from the program. It is elegant and pure and while it looks simple it is, in fact, quite complex.
“A lot of work has been done and what you saw is the result of this work,” Kolyada said. “I did not have to break myself or change myself completely (after going to Mishin). He is not changing my technique, but making some corrections. We will continue to work and will develop further.” Kolyada said he has been working on the quad Lutz and Salchow, jumps he has previously landed in competition.
World Junior champion Andrei Mozalev was probably No. 2 in his first appearance at the senior level test skates. His short program music is “Sadness” by Enigma and Ennio Morricone’s “The Man with the Harmonica” performed by Apollo 440 for the long.
The 17-year-old skated clean in both programs, landing a quad flip in the short as well as a quad toe-triple toe and two quad toes in the free. Mozalev, a St. Petersburg native, explained that both programs are connected. “The short program is about Marquis de Sade and at the end of the program he is losing his mind. And then it continues in the long program. I’ve worked a lot on the choreography. I practised the program in front of a mirror.”
Petr Gumennik debuted at the senior-level test skates as well. The World Junior bronze medalist grew a lot over the summer, but he turned in two solid performances with one quad Salchow. He kept last season’s long program to “The Phantom of the Opera” and has a new short to a modern version of “Moonlight Sonata.”
Alexander Samarin came to the test skates with two new programs. The short, set to the Russian song “Poliushke Pole” (“Meadowlands”), was OK. Samarin stepped out of the quad loop and stumbled in the step sequence, but did land a triple Axel and a triple Lutz-triple toe. In the long program to “Keeping Me Alive” by Jonathan Roy, the 2019 European silver medalist crashed on a quad flip attempt, landed a somewhat shaky quad toe-triple toe and doubled a Lutz. The overall quality of his elements could have been better. “This came out more like a draft (of the program),“ Samarin admitted. “But the main task of these test skates is to get the competition feeling back.”
Makar Ignatov landed a quad loop and quad toe-triple toe in his short to “I Can’t Go On Without You” by Kaleo, but fell on the triple Axel. His free to “Je suis malade” was rough — Ignatov took a hard fall on his opening quad loop and also went down on the quad toe. He recovered to land a quad toe-triple toe and triple Axel, but the landings were tight. In both programs, he lacked speed. Ignatov limped off the ice but said he was OK.
Roman Savosin, the 2018 World Junior silver medalist, has recovered from injuries, but he made a few errors.
Aliev was absent from the test skates after travelling to Germany earlier in the week to get treatment for a lower back problem. He returned to training the day after the test skates. European silver medalist Artur Danielian had to withdraw due to an ankle injury.
The Ladies: Trusova Surprises
The ladies received the most attention as usual. The Russian media and fans are crazy about their young skating stars and the seemingly never-ending flow of new talent.
Alexandra Trusova made headlines earlier this season when she switched coaches from Eteri Tutberidze’s group to Evgeni Plushenko’s school. She was subsequently followed by a few others. Six months later, Trusova has developed and is headed in a good direction, so perhaps this was just the change she needed. Now that she has matured a little more she has a better understanding of what she needs to improve.
“I was a bit nervous after the long break, but I think I coped with it. I think I’m doing everything the right way,” said Trusova, adding she feels a growth spurt of a few centimeters has not affected her.
Kamila Valieva, the reigning World Junior champion, was invited to the senior test skates to give her a new challenge and gain experience. There were rumors flying around that she was only invited because she was not in shape for the junior test skates, but even if that is true, she looked in good shape last weekend. Valieva, who turned 14 in April and is not age eligible for senior internationals this season, said she has grown about five centimetres but has not lost her jumps, as she demonstrated.
Valieva looked like a little fairy flying over the ice. Her short program to “Storm,” a composition by Canada’s Eric Radford, was clean. She fell on the opening quad toe in her “Bolero” free skate, but was able to repeat that jump and she also landed all her triples. The choice of “Bolero” for the free is obviously risky as many top skaters have used this music in the past, but she and her team did a good job with it. However, this very rhythmic piece is not a natural fit for her style as softer music is.
“In the short program, I am portraying a bird and I want to bring across that ease. In the long I want to show the character more clearly and I want to make sure that all the moves are very exact,” said Valieva, adding she has watched other skaters’ performances to this music and especially liked Carolina Kostner’s interpretation.
Anna Shcherbakova put out two solid performances, only missing the quad Lutz in the free. The two-time and reigning Russian champion has maintained her lightness on the ice and stayed true to the lyrical character of her program (“O Doux Printemps d’Autrefois” performed by Joshua Bell and “Forgiveness” by Panu Aaltio).
The practice session for the free skate did not go well and Shcherbakova seemed a little upset, but she recovered for the actual performance. “I can’t say that I am completely happy, but there is a certain satisfaction. The practice this morning was not the best, but I pulled myself together in the warm-up and it went quite well. In the program, it was a very good attempt (on the quad Lutz) and I think this is a good starting point,” the 16-year-old said.
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva landed the triple Axel in practice and in the warm-up, but failed to execute the jump in both programs. She popped the Axel into a single in the short and fell in the free skate. The short, choreographed by Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, is set to the Adagio from “Spartacus” — an unusual lyrical and classical choice for Tuktamysheva, but the program actually works really well for her. The white dress, however, did not look too good on her and she decided right away to change it.
Tuktamysheva mounted the long program — “Chronicles of a Mischievous Bird” by Russian composer Bhihma Iunusov — remotely with choreographer Yuri Smekalov. It is a very interesting and cool program. “I think I am not at 65 percent. After the long break I need to work a lot to feel good and I’ll try to use this month to the fullest,” the 2015 World champion explained. “Surprisingly, both programs are close to me and I think they suit me well.”
Evgenia Medvedeva was on her own at the test skates, with her coach Brian Orser plugged in remotely via cell phone. Though she tried to make the best out of the situation, it was obviously not easy. On top of that, she is dealing with a chronic back injury that she did not want to discuss publicly.
For her short, Medvedeva chose “Waltz Masquerade.” The program was choreographed by Canada’s Jeffrey Buttle. For the long, “Alegria” from “Cirque du Soleil,” she collaborated once again with Shae-Lynn Bourne. It is a playful, cheerful program but, unfortunately, Medvedeva made a few mistakes. She later said she was not yet ready to perform the program.
“I did not have enough time to prepare for the free for several reasons, but I nevertheless decided to go out with a full run-through,” the two-time World champion said. “I omitted some elements, because I need to be physically in shape for that.” She was mostly upset about missing the cartwheel in her choreo step sequence because her glove slipped on the ice.
Alena Kostornaia also made a coaching change this year. in July, she left Tutberidze’s group and went to Plushenko’s academy, where she works with Sergei Rozanov, a former coach in Tutberidze’s school. Kostornaia is not yet in top shape — that was the same situation at the test skates last year — but she still looked good. The triple Axel is not yet ready. Plushenko revealed she had an injury, but did not disclose what exactly was wrong.
Her short program set to “No Time to Die” and “You Should See Me in a Crown” by Billie Eilish, is upbeat and fun. She is currently working remotely on a new long program with Bourne, who is based in California, but as it is not yet finished Kostornaia withdrew from the free skate.
After the short program, Kostornaia spoke about her controversial coaching change for the first time. Her main issue was that she was not comfortable sharing the ice with children and suggested to her coaches that they change that arrangement. But, according to Kostornaia, the coaches did not want to follow her suggestion. “There were some problems. I think that athletes like me, Anna (Shcherbakova) and Kamila (Valieva) should not have to skate on the same ice with kids that were born in 2010. And if they do, someone needs to explain to them that the (older) girls won’t cut them any slack.”
Kostornaia also confirmed she made the decision to change coaches on July 17 (not in May as some outlets had previously reported). She said she called Rozanov and asked if she could switch. He told her to think it through one more time and two days later helped her to organize the transition. Kostornaia said the environment in her new training venue is much calmer than her previous one. She is also happy that Elena Ilinykh, the 2014 Olympic ice dance bronze medalist, has joined Plushenko′s coaching team.
Sofia Samodurova presented her short to “The Man with the Harmonica” by Ennio Morricone performed by Apollo 440 taking the role of an alien that landed on Earth. This was reflected in her make-up and hair coloring. However, she caught a cold and had a high temperature and was forced to withdraw from the long program. “I am apologizing to you that I cannot show my free program, although I really wanted to. But not everything depends on our wishes,” the 2019 European champion wrote in an Instagram post.
Alina Zagitova, the reigning World and Olympic champion, announced before the test skates that she would not be taking part as she is now working as a co-host on Ilia Averbukh’s popular television show “Ice Age” where prominent skaters are teamed up with actors and musicians. Her decision not to take part in the test skates fueled speculation that she will not return to competition. The 18-year-old is also enrolled in university to study journalism.
The Pairs: Young and Strong
Russia has been a strong pairs skating nation for decades, and that tradition was in evidence once again at the test skates with the young teams showing a high performance level.
European champions Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii debuted their new short to romantic music from the old Soviet movie “The Star of Captivating Happiness.” Their side-by-side triple Salchow, triple twist and other elements were without fault. The only glitch came when Boikova touched down on the throw triple flip. They skated their James Bond long program from last season, but have a new one prepared that they plan to debut later in the season. The Bond program was also strong, and without any major errors.
“The most important thing for us was to be able to perform in front of spectators again. We really missed that feeling. This is what we train for,” Kozlovskii said.
Since joining Boikova and Kozlvoskii at Tamara Moskvina’s school in March, Anastasia Mishina and Alexander Galliamov have made a lot of progress. Their short, set to variations on the ballet “Esmeralda” (arranged by Alexander Goldstein), was fun and fresh and included an amazing lift. In the long to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” they showed they have really grown as performers. Technically, this team again impressed with high throws and solid side-by-side triple jumps.
“We really enjoy this music and this program,” said Galliamov of the free. “We tried to prepare as well as possible and this was our first serious performance. It was not ideal.”
“We need to work on the quality of the elements,” Mishina added.
Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin have matured as well. They turned in two strong performances to “Sing Sing Sing” in the short and “S.O.S. d’un terrien en detresse” in the long. The Muscovites produced side-by-side triple flip jumps in the free skate and set themselves apart with innovative transitions and lifts.
“Denis really wanted to skate to this music,” Pavliuchenko explained about the choice for the free.
“Indeed, we feel that we look more grown up in our programs this year,” Khodykin said.
Alina Pepeleva and Roman Pleshkov represent Nina Mozer’s school and skated well as did Jasmina Kadyrova and Ivan Balchenko from Perm.
Reigning World Junior champions Apollinariia Panfilova and Dmitry Rylov had to withdraw from the test skates, as he had to undergo surgery to remove his tonsils. Two-time European champions Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov also did not attend. Coach Maxim Trankov explained that they are scheduled for the first two events of the Russian Cup series and will then return to their training base in the U.S. to compete at Skate America.
Ice Dance: Old and New
To be honest, without the top two teams of Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, the ice dance event was not so exciting. Stepanova has a reoccurring back injury and, like Aliev, she went to Germany to get an injection. Katsalapov is also recovering from an injury.
Tiffany Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro were the leaders of the pack and although their preparation time had been cut short after Zagorski was diagnosed with a mild case of Covid-19 and was in quarantine along with her partner and training mates, they produced solid performances. For now, they have kept both programs from last season, but might get a new free dance. They skated to “The Greatest Showman” in the rhythm dance and “Survivor” in the free.
“The most scary thing is that we don’t know the long-term effect of that virus,” Zagorski said. “Luckily I got it in a quite light form. I didn’t have a heavy cough or a high temperature.” Neither her partner nor her training mates and coaches became infected.
“I think it was a victory for us to go out two, three weeks after the illness and perform here,” said Guerreiro, adding they were so grateful to have good doctors. “We were on pins and needles.”
Anastasia Skoptcova and Kirill Aleshin, the 2018 World Junior champions, also skated last year’s programs to “Bonnie and Clyde” in the rhythm dance and “Never Tear Us Apart” in the free. Sofia Shevchenko and Igor Eremenko, the 2019 World Junior bronze medalists, presented a new free dance to “The Illusionist” by Maxime Rodriguez. Annabel Morozov and Andrei Bagin revamped last season’s free dance to “Terra Rossa,” but they might change it during the season.
Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva and Egor Bazin are a new team. Khudaiberdieva, the 2019 World Junior silver medalist, joined forces with Bazin last spring. The duo train with Denis Samokhin and Oleg Sudakov in the Moscow and Samara regions. (Bazin’s home base is Samara). Their rhythm dance to “The Artist” was upbeat and fun. In the free, set to music by Ludovico Einaudi, they skated well except for a fall by Bazin on the twizzles.
Overall, the test skates left a strong impression. The Russian skaters did not seem to have been affected too much by the forced break. They have caught up quickly.
Russian Figure Skating Federation president Alexander Gorshkov was very pleased. “It this situation it was not easy to prepare,” he said. “What we saw exceeded all our most optimistic expectations. Even a month ago we were not sure that this event could take place in this format at Megasport.” He added that it was important for the skaters to have a goal to prepare for.
“Kudos to the coaches for the work they have done and how they have prepared the athletes under these circumstances,” added General secretary Alexander Kogan.
In a way, the test skates was also a test for organizing an event under the current conditions. Tickets were limited with 3200 sold on Saturday and 4,000 on Sunday. However, many spectators were sitting close together and even more were not wearing masks.
Journalists who worked in the mixed zone had to provide a negative Covid-19 test that was no older than 72 hours. The number was limited to 10. They were all supposed to wear masks, but not all of them did. Some skaters and coaches wore masks off the ice, but not all.
“Many people are letting their guard down,” said Medvedeva. “I ask everyone to be careful and wear masks.”